It’s the quote made famous by the Will Smith movie franchise Bad Boys, ‘We ride together, We die together, Bad Boys for life!’ Only it appears wife Jada didn’t get the memo. Moving away from Hollywood gossip it’s a sentiment that rings true for bikers around the world, solo on our machines, united in our passion for them. Which is exactly how a group of France’s finest came together to build one extraordinary bike. Inspired by the classic wooden powerboats that cruise the Riviera in style, Jacques Jouvin of Atelier JAB is unapologetic about the fact this Yamaha XS650 is both a functional machine and a stunning piece of art.
“The initial idea was to build a monocoque with a very fluid line reminiscent of the American and Italian luxury sports boats of the ’20s and ’30s,” he explains. Not sure what he means, think of the boat chase in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stunning pieces of high-powered Mahogany blasting through the canals of Venice. Popular on both sides of the Atlantic, the offerings of companies like Chris Craft and Hacker-Craft were not only beautiful and the toys of the rich and famous, but the fastest things on the water at the time. It’s easy to see why a master woodworker like Jouvin would be inspired by them and want to replicate the idea on two wheels.
For the task he’d bring together an amazing group, experts in their field and united by a common cause. Fabien Tourlan of Atelier Les Bécanes for the mechanicals, parts from Aymeric Romanowski of Atelier WIK and Bernard Christy, painting and varnish work by David Gallet and Laurent of Neway Designs, Seurat 3 to tackle the rims and suspension, Twins-inn France who are XS650 masters and finally the unique skills of E. Nov and Sparte Motorcycle. And breathe…, but Jouvin would lead the charge and his search for the right XS led him to a 1978 model in reasonable enough condition to serve as the base for the build.
Literally nothing is untouched and it all starts with the frame that was stripped down, smoothed out, tig welded in the weak spots for extra strength and a louver from a Lambretta added in the down tubes. A teardrop was fabricated in for electrical storage before the whole thing was sandblasted, hit with phosphating treatment, a powder coating with a chrome effect and finally a powder coat clear. While the back end is given a rather unique touch, “recessed LED indicators covered with orange methacrylate recycled from large door handles from the 70s, with a polished finish for optimal light diffusion.”
At this point, we only have a frame and you begin to realise the JAB & Co. creation is no joke. “I chose Wengé, a precious wood found in the home of a retired fellow woodworker who owned a stable lot since 1976,” Jouvin explains, and this stuff ain’t cheap. “It was a lot of fretwork, shaping, gluing and inclusion of aluminium. Once the monocoque was finished, it was necessary to adapt the original tank, adjusting the capacity by carrying out custom boiler work to fit it into the monocoque,” he explains. And with vibrations unavoidable on a motorcycle all the mountings are silent block bushings, genius.
The finishing touches to the timber work are stunning, beautiful Monza filler cap, metal inlays, and a seat to match in rich leather. There are other timber details, the grips, oil cap, and electronic speedo surround, which also uses rubber mountings and a rear speedo pick-up. With the cable running through the swingarm and frame, so as not to mess up the gorgeous lines of that beautiful front end. But before we leave the wood, it’s finished in no less than 12 layers of protective varnish that is weather, temperature, and fuel resistant. But the metalwork is no less impressive, the rear hanger is sleek, while the front fender creates both a fork brace and integrated brake support.
Which clamps that timeless drum brake setup, that is laced with stainless spokes to an Akront 18in rim for a classic look. While controlling it is a set of 50mm lower forks with hydraulic adjustment valves and progressive springs on the inside. The lower tree has been given the same treatment as the frame while the upper triple is a custom alloy unit with no handlebar mounts required. These are replaced instead by E. Nov clip-ons fitted with chrome-plated aluminium handlebars, Tommaselli Matador brake and clutch levers and Rizoma bar-end turn signals; this baby is road legal. The rear uses another classic rim and hub combo and a custom set of Hagon shocks for a smooth ride.
Now all the crew needed was a powerplant to do the bike justice and no expense was spared. From the highly detailed outside to the new pistons, valves, and bearings on the inside, she’s better than new. There are a host of hot rod parts to make bulk power and the externals are no less impressive with a pair of Keihin PWK 34 carbs and a full electronic ignition as part of the complete re-wire of the entire bike. The full stainless exhaust system finishes it all out with peashooters and more silent blocks integrated into the mounting. Whether wood is your flavour or not, these men are at the top of their game and for Jacques Jouvin it was about working with an incredible team to create a luxury object, inspired by a time when the nobility of material and craftsmanship were truly admired.